"Neighborhood Watch," Cammie McGovern

Pros: Wow. What a complex web of themes, plots, characters, secrets, and intrigue.
Cons: Sometimes a little too coy about hinting at things to come.
Rating: 5 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Penguin Group

 

Betsy Treading has spent the last 12 years in jail for murder. Now DNA evidence has proven her innocence of the crime—but that isn’t the same as being innocent in the eyes of her neighbors, the people who failed to stand up for her when the crime was committed. Of course, it doesn’t help that even Betsy thought she’d committed the crime while sleepwalking, and can’t remember anything of that night.

Now Betsy is staying with her one-time neighbors, Marianne and Roland, who have their own secrets to hide. She’s reexamining her relationship with her now ex-husband, Paul, and his childhood friend, Geoffrey, an author who shared with her a great love of books. She knows that the only way she’ll ever be truly free of the shadow of suspicion is to find out what really happened that night… and her old suburban neighborhood with its carefully identical houses has more than its share of secrets to hide.


 

Cammie McGovern’s Neighborhood Watch fits the most stunning amount of material into its allotted pages without feeling rushed or shallow. The characters come fully alive, from eccentric scientist Roland to Marianne’s missing daughter Trish, from mousy ex-husband Paul to Betsy’s memories of her mentally ill father.

Neighborhood Watch is an incredible mystery; every time I was sure I’d figured out what had happened, I found out I was wrong again. It’s a stunning examination of the difference between the facades we show each other and ourselves, the reality that lies just under the surface, and the freedom—and violence—that can come when that facade is cracked open. It’s a fascinating look at relationships, and love, and marriage, and the reasons why people love and marry. And more than all of that, it pokes a finger into the open wound of mental illness, and how we treat it in our families and in our neighborhoods.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, McGovern also touches on some fascinating modern scientific issues, both technical and ethical—that’s one thing I don’t want to go into too much, because I’d risk spoilers. I have no idea how she manages to pack so much in and yet make it all read so quickly, smoothly, and perfectly. I read this book in half a day, but I feel like I lived through a lifetime in that time. Betsy is a fascinating narrator for this tale, and she keeps things lively despite plenty of introspection along the way. The only (very minor) problem I occasionally had early on was her tendency to coyly refer to or imply little things that she didn’t explain until later—this can build tension in small amounts, but it was just enough to get mildly confusing once or twice.

This isn’t a mindless thriller by any stretch of the imagination. But if you’d like to stretch your mind and examine your preconceptions while figuring out whodunnit and how, then Neighborhood Watch is perfect!

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